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Timely lessons on politics and negotiating from the island of love 25 mars 2008

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, South East Europe / Europe du Sud-Est, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Daily Star (Lebanon), Saturday, March 22, 2008


The interplay between local, regional and global political conflicts is visible throughout the Middle East, most clearly in Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq and Palestine. There is another East Mediterranean country, though, where local dynamics appear to be moving in a more rational direction. This is Cyprus, whose new Greek Cypriot president, Demetris Christofias, has just launched a round of reunification talks with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat. This comes a month after Christofias’ election. The rush to convene these talks suggests that a significant new diplomatic dynamic is under way, after talks stalled in 2004 when Greek Cypriots rejected the UN peace plan that was approved by Turkish Cypriots.

« We will have Cypriot coffee together, » Christofias said after the two leaders shook hands at the start of the talks. They will do much more than that, including providing an important example of how international tensions and external players cannot stop a reconciliation when the local actors decide to move in that direction. Many technical issues will be put on the table, emanating from the 2004 plan and another proposal from 2006. The most significant aspect of these talks for others in the Middle East, however, is the sheer determination and capacity of feuding politicians to push their communities into serious conflict resolution efforts.

This is as complex a conflict as they come in this region, featuring historical traumas, religious divides, territorial claims, clashing national identities, refugee flows, and claims of ethnic cleansing. Significantly, an important recent impetus for moving toward resolution has been the role of external parties. The Greek and Turkish governments have realized that neither stalemate nor war are realistic options. Turkey’s desire to enter the European Union has allowed the EU and member Greece to use that as an incentive for progress in Cyprus, to which Turkey has responded elegantly and positively. The interplay between Greek and Turkish government needs and the interests of the Cypriots on both sides of the divide has turned more positive in recent years. A new generation of local leaders in Cyprus seems determined to build on this opening.

These talks may not succeed. More time and new ideas might be needed. Nevertheless, both sides in Cyprus offer the rest of us in this region a timely reminder about crafting win-win negotiating situations in which external patrons and supporters play a positive role in achieving a local agreement between their allies, proxies and partners. A key reason for this is that resolving the local dispute allows the larger external parties to achieve some of their own coveted goals. Such an interlinked dynamic is anchored in an acknowledgement that all sides must win for any meaningful agreement to be reached. The island of love today is also an island of lessons for others.


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